Understanding Seasonal Depression
November 28th, 2013 by Lyne Quesnel, ND
Seasonal depression is a depressive state which occurs in a certain number of people during fall and winter, when the days are shorter and sunlight is less intense than the rest of the year. Seasonal depression is also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or the winter blues.
Caught up in the hectic race of modern existence, many people have a hard time conciliating their family lives with their professional lives. If a certain amount of stress is useful to us, even necessary to get results, long periods of tension can inversely affect our health, provoking insomnia and lead to depression.
Other factors, such as relationship issues or grieving are also susceptible to provoke the onset of psychological disorders.
The insufficient amount of sunlight during the short winter days can provoke in some people what is known as seasonal depression.
What is seasonal depression?
It is a recurring state of depression which occurs only during the fall or winter.
What are the causes?
• Diminished exposure to light reduces the levels of melatonin, a hormone which regulates sleep cycles. This hormone is certainly a factor in those suffering from seasonal depression.
• A reduction in serotonin levels are noted during winter and when there is less light, this state may play an important role.
• A deficiency in certain nutrients, vitamins and minerals may also be a cause.
• Seasonal depression may also be exacerbated by a lack of exercise and stress.
What are the symptoms?
The most popular symptoms are depression, anxiety, irregular sleep patterns, extreme fatigue, lethargy and cravings.
These symptoms are sometimes accompanied by decreased libido, mood swings, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), palpitations and low resistance to stress.
What is the difference between depression and seasonal depression?
Symptoms of depression:
• all regular and normal activities seem difficult or unnecessary
• sadness and fatigue, a sense of laziness
• self-loathing and being highly auto critical
• reduction or lack of sexual appetite
• thoughts of suicide
• intense trouble concentrating
• insomnia or oversleeping
• increase or loss of appetite
• loss of interest in previous activities and unable to feel joy or pleasure
• an irrational feeling of guilt, feeling hopeless and useless
• loss of energy and feeling physically drained
• feeling sluggish and have difficulty expressing yourself
Symptoms of seasonal depression:
• state of depression
• fatigue, lethargy
• sleeping more
• eating more
• craving carbohydrates (sweets)
• anxiety and irritability
• decreased sexual appetite
Is there a portion of the population that is more at risk?
Seasonal depression affects many habitants of the northern hemisphere.
How long does it last?
Symptoms disappear in spring when the amount of sunlight increases.
How to protect ourselves from this?
• A diet rich in antioxidants increases melatonin levels. Fruits, vegetables, legumes, dark coloured olive oils, green tea and a good quality dark chocolate are rich in antioxidants.
• The incidence of season depression being much lower in countries that consume more fish (rich in Omega-3s) suggests that an Omega-3 supplement may help.
• Avoid succumbing to the cravings for coffee, alcohol, sugars and fats as their long term negative effects on your health will affect your mood.
• Keeping a daily journal is a good way to evaluate the positive and negative effects of food on your mood. Some foods can make you more moody and depressed than others.
A few tips to reduce seasonal depression symptoms
• A balanced diet can strongly influence the condition of a person suffering from seasonal depression because prolonged periods of certain nutritional deficiencies may provoke the onset of seasonal depression.
• Forget coffee. Larry Christensen, doctor and psychologist at the University of A & M in College Station, Texas declared that one cup of coffee with sugar can act as a double depressor. He states that sugar and caffeine largely contribute to depression and that by eliminating these substances there is a notable difference within 4 to 7 days. Coffee also impairs sleep and affects mood.
• Limit sugar. It gives the impression of a short term energy boost, but is followed by a crash once the sugar is metabolized.
• Avoiding alcohol is important during episodes of depression says Dr David Dunner, professor of psychiatry and co-director of the anxiety center at the University of Washington in Seattle.
• Watch less TV. Watching television has been linked to depression by Robert Kubey, doctor and psychologist in New Jersey.
• Go outside every day, no matter what the weather is like, as long as you get some exposure to natural sunlight. A 30 minute walk in the middle of the day, when the sun is at its zenith, is ideal even if the skies are grey. Physical activity gives endorphins (brain molecules which are natural antidepressants) so no matter what you decide to do, be active.
• Place your office desk to take advantage of sunlight. Place your chair or your workstation in front of a window to take full advantage of daylight and the sun.
• Use lamps that can be purchased and that can be used for a few hours. They reproduce sunlight. They are considered an effective treatment in 75% of cases. The complete spectra of light include UV rays 20 times more powerful than regular light. These rays penetrate the skin and activate the production of vitamin D (which artificial light does not do).
• Daily supplements of multivitamins, minerals and magnesium may ease symptoms. The properties of minerals vary from one to the other, by taking a varied mineral complex such as MINERALEX, mental alertness is increased (zinc) contributing to proper brain function, stress is decreased (calcium and magnesium) and the nervous system is nourished. Irritability is also reduced (manganese) thereby facilitating relaxation.
• Ginseng stimulates and increases functional activity and helps fight fatigue and depression. It helps improve both physical and psychological states. Its adaptogenic properties help us react better to stress and is vital for the proper functioning of the nervous system.
• Studies show that many people who are depressed also have B9 and B12 deficiencies. While sustaining the nervous system, vitamins B1, B2, B6 and B9 have been shown, when combined, to provide considerable benefits. One 10 mg dose of the first 3 and at least 100 micrograms of B9 on a daily basis are necessary for full concrete benefits. Thanks to a well-dosed complex of B-group vitamins the effects of seasonal depression can be countered. Certain vitamins such as B6 contribute to the production of natural antidepressants like dopamine and norepinephrin. Others, such as B5, act as a natural antistress, whereas B12 helps to reduce irritability, improves concentration, increases energy and protects the health of the nervous system. A deficiency of B9 contributes to mental illness. Deficiencies of vitamins B1 and B2 can directly lead to depression. Vitamin B6 is responsible for various hormonal functions related to depression and serotonin, which in turn affect mood. It is partially responsible for the conversion of the tryptophan of serotonin in the brain. It is important to note vitamins in a complex formula are much easier to assimilate compared to those taken separately.
• An Omega-3 fatty acid deficiency has also been noticed in person suffering from depression. Clinical studies have shown that Omega-3s can ease the symptoms of depression.
Don’t let yourself be overpowered by negative thoughts, defy nature considering that there are natural solutions which are easy to incorporate into our daily lives. They help put all of our chances on our side to avoid nutritional deficiencies due to the lack of sunlight which often lead to seasonal depression. Avoid the mad rush of modern life by following this simple advice, be tenacious and be patient, you will feel the benefits and life will seem much lighter!
If, however, your symptoms are more like clinical depression, it may be better to consult a mental health professional.
References : Les aliments contre la maladie, Suzannah Olivier, ed. Caractere ; Vitamines et minéraux, comment les utiliser, ed. Goellette ; Bien se soigner, Caroline Green, ed. Trécarré ; Guide pratique de la phytothérapie, Andrew Chevalier, ed. HMH ; Symptomes causes et guérison, Ed Modus Vivendi ; Les médecines de la Nature, ed. Reader’s Digest ; Aliments Santé. Ed. Reader’s Digest ; Le guide des vitamines et suppléments de Dr Earl Mindell, ed.Modus Aventure ; La Pharmacie Verte, James A. Duke, ed. Modus Vivendi.